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Top 17 museums in New York City

Ranging from the New-York Historical Society to the Frick and MoMA, cultural institutions can be found across NYC.

New York City’s cultural institutions and museums are both myriad and vast. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases more than 5,000 years of art history. Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History spans 26 interconnected buildings.

Art museums are located all across NYC, including the Whitney Museum, MoMA and the New Museum. If masterpieces aren’t of interest, institutions such as Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the Intrepid Museum showcase other topics.

Keep reading for our selection of the top museums in New York, in no particular order.

1 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

metropolitan museum of art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases tens of thousands of objects across more than 5,000 years of art at its two sites in New York City. Founded in 1870, the Met is the largest art museum in the US, housing a vast collection at both the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters.

The main building at Fifth Avenue is one of the world’s largest art galleries. Visitors can also enjoy the Met Cloisters, a smaller location with an extensive collection of art, architecture and artefacts.

Sofie Andersen, head of digital content at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, recently spoke to blooloop about this top museum’s digital strategy.

2 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

cooper hewitt smithsonian design museum

Founded in 1897, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is home to innovative exhibitions, educational programmes and online resources.

The Smithsonian museum boasts one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections, with more than 210,000 objects spanning 30 centuries. These include drawings, prints, graphic design, product design, decorative arts and textiles. Located in New York’s Carnegie Mansion, this top museum covers four floors of galleries dedicated to design.

Carolyn Royston, chief experience officer of Cooper Hewitt, spoke to blooloop about merging digital and physical elements to create an integrated visitor experience.

3 American Museum of Natural History

american museum of natural history

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is one of the biggest natural history museums in the world, spanning 26 interconnected buildings. Founded in 1869, AMNH has 45 permanent exhibition halls, as well as a planetarium and library.

The museum’s collection contains more than 34 million specimens of plants, fossils, animals, minerals, rocks, meteorites and human remains. AMNH is renowned for its exhibitions and scientific collections, which serve as a field guide to the planet.

The NYC institution is also expanding, with the addition of the $383m Richard Gilder Center. This will include new exhibition and learning spaces with state-of-the-art technology and access to the collection.

4 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

guggenheim museum new york

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is an internationally renowned art museum, cultural centre and educational institution in New York City, and has a reputation for being one of the world’s top museums. It was established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, before opening in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959.

The Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened in 1997, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice was established in 1951, and now the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is in development.

New York’s Guggenheim Museum is a permanent home for an expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art. Last year, the Guggenheim Museum approved a plan to become more inclusive and racially diverse following accusations by employees of entrenched racism.

5 Whitney Museum of American Art

whitney museum

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and opened in 1931. In 1954, the institution moved to an expanded site before opening the Marcel Breuer-designed building in 1963.

The current building opened in 2015 and houses a vast range of 20th century and contemporary American art, focusing on works by living artists. Designed by Renzo Piano, the Whitney’s latest home is located between the High Line and the Hudson River and vastly increased the exhibition and programming space.

The permanent collection includes more than 25,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, films, videos, and new media by more than 3,500 artists.

6 Brooklyn Museum

brooklyn museum

Another of New York’s top museums is the Brooklyn Museum – one of the largest and oldest art museums in the US. Spread across 560,000 square feet, this is the third largest museum in NYC and boasts a collection of approximately 1.5 million artworks. Founded in 1895, the Brooklyn Museum features art by Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The building was designed by American architectural firm McKim, Mead & White and opened to the public in 1897. Major renovations were carried out in the late 20th century.

Last year, the Brooklyn Museum teamed up with Netflix on a virtual costume exhibition in conjunction with the premiere of The Queen’s Gambit and the fourth season of The Crown. The exhibition displayed related objects from the museum’s collection within a rendering of the Beaux-Arts Court.

7 The Museum of Modern Art

moma museum of modern art

Founded in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York cares for a vast collection of more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, objects and models. Highlights include Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’, Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ and Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’.

Earlier this year, more than 250 new works were installed throughout 30 galleries on all floors of the museum.The expanded MoMA reopened in October 2019 following an investment of $450m.

“The real value of this expansion is not more space, but space that allows us to rethink the experience of art in the museum,” said Glenn D Lowry, the David Rockefeller director. The expansion was developed by MoMA with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with Gensler.

8 The Jewish Museum

jewish museum new york

Located on NYC’s Museum Mile, the Jewish Museum was founded in 1904 and is one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world. The institution looks after a collection of nearly 30,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations, archaeological artefacts, ceremonial objects and media, These span more than 4,000 years of Jewish history.

The Jewish Museum, which opened to the public in 1947, was the first of its kind in the US. Dedicated to art and Jewish culture, the attraction is home to diverse exhibitions and programmes that combine art and artefacts.

Its latest exhibition, ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’, tells the story of the Ephrussi family, recognised in Edmund de Waal’s 2010 memoir of the same name. Diller Scofidio + Renfro worked closely with the Jewish Museum and de Waal to create an interpretive installation using family and loaned artefacts.

9 Merchant’s House Museum

merchants house museum

Merchant’s House Museum is the only 19th century family home in New York that is preserved intact. Constructed in 1832, the house became a museum in 1936 when it was founded by a cousin of the Tredwell family, who lived in the house between 1835 and 1933.

Now one of New York’s top museums, Merchant’s House Museum tells the story of the domestic life of the wealthy merchant family through public education programmes, exhibitions and collections.

In 1966, it was recognised as a National Historic Landmark, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The collection of more than 3,000 items comprises the Tredwells’ possessions, including furniture, decorative arts, clothing, photographs, books and household items.

10 New Museum of Contemporary Art

new museum

The New Museum of Contemporary Art in NYC was founded by Marcia Tucker, a curator at the Whitney, in 1977. It is a leading museum for new art and ideas, and is Manhattan’s only dedicated contemporary art museum. In 2007, the New Museum reopened in its current home with facilities including a theatre, five floors of gallery space and a Sky Room with spectacular views of lower Manhattan.

Back in 2019, the New Museum announced plans for a new second building that will double exhibition space with three floors of galleries. Designed by OMA, the building will replace the current space. The New Museum is opting to start from scratch instead of renovating.

“The OMA design will provide seamless connectivity and horizontal flow between the two buildings, expanded space for our world renowned exhibitions, and access to some of our most innovative programs that the public currently cannot see,” said New Museum director Lisa Phillips

11 The Frick Collection

frick collection new york

The Frick Collection, an art museum and research centre in New York City, originated with Henry Clay Frick, who left his paintings and sculptures to the public. Since the Frick opened in 1935, it has more than doubled in size.

This top New York museum is currently closed for renovations, designed by Selldorf Architects. The project will create new spaces to display art and improve amenities. During the renovation, the museum and library collections are accessible at Frick Madison, the Marcel Breuer-designed building that once housed the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“Audiences will be able to experience the collection reframed in an exciting new way,” said Ian Wardropper, director of the Frick. “The minimalism of Marcel Breuer’s mid-century architecture will provide a unique backdrop for our Old Masters, and the result will be a not-to-be-missed experience, one that our public is sure to find engaging and thought-provoking.”

12 Tenement Museum

tenement museum new york

The Tenement Museum is housed in two historic tenement buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, NYC. These buildings were home to an estimated 15,000 people from more than 20 nations between 1863 and the turn of the 21st century.

Founded in 1988 by historian Ruth Abram and social activist Anita Jacobsen, the museum focuses on the American story of immigration. The Tenement Museum has become a leading cultural and educational institution in New York, welcoming more than 278,000 visitors annually.

Dr Annie Polland took over as the museum’s president in January, replacing Dr Morris J Vogel. “What the Tenement Museum does is nothing short of magical – bringing strangers together on an immersive tour of history, inspiring them to draw connections between past and present, and in the process forging connections with one another,” said Polland.

13 Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

intrepid sea, air and space museum

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is a military and maritime history museum in New York City, located on the Hudson River. The institution is home to the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, and Enterprise space shuttle, as well as the world’s fastest jets and a guided missile submarine.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum was founded in 1982 with the acquisition of the USS Intrepid, which forms the centrepiece of the museum. The Intrepid Museum welcomes more than one million visitors annually. Exhibits at this top New York museum include the Lockheed A-12, the world’s fastest military jet and spy plane, and the British Airways Concorde, the fastest commercial aircraft to ever cross the Atlantic.

14 New-York Historical Society

new york historical society

The New-York Historical Society is New York City’s oldest museum, founded in 1804. Its collections include more than 10 million items, from art and objects to artefacts and documents.

The museum is now expanding its building on Central Park West, adding more than 70,000 square feet of space. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the expansion will also house the American LGBTQ+ Museum. The new offering will explore the history and culture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people through exhibitions and programmes.

“How gratifying it is to realize the dream of telling the American story in all its complexity in state-of-the-art educational spaces and a brand-new gallery dedicated to the struggle for civil rights of the American LGBTQ+ community,” said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society.

15 The Morgan Library & Museum

morgan library and museum

Another of New York’s top museums is The Morgan Library & Museum. Formerly the Pierpont Morgan Library, this is a museum and research library in Manhattan which started life as the personal library of financier, collector and cultural benefactor J.P. Morgan.

Its collection comprises manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings and works of art. The main building was constructed between 1902 and 1906 for $1.2 million.

The largest expansion in the Morgan Library & Museum’s history, designed by Renzo Piano, was completed back in 2006. The project increased exhibition space by more than 50 percent and added visitor amenities including a performance hall, café, restaurant, shop, reading room and collections storage.

16 Rubin Museum of Art

rubin museum of art

The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City’s Chelsea explores and celebrates Himalayan art, ideas and cultures across history. Inspired by the philosophical traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, the museum offers innovative exhibitions and programmes.

The Rubin Museum of Art opened in October 2004 and welcomes approximately 180,000 visitors annually. To date, the destination has put on more than 125 exhibitions and 5,500 public programmes. The Rubin boasts 35,000 square feet of space, with galleries, a state-of-the-art theatre, shop and café. The permanent collection includes nearly 4,000 objects across more than 1,500 years.

It is opening an experimental learning space in fall 2021. The original Rubin Museum of Art structure was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle and was occupied by Barneys New York.

17 Museum of the City of New York

museum of the city of new york

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), a history and art museum in Manhattan, was founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown. The museum was originally housed in Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City. MCNY’s current home on Fifth Avenue was completed in 1932.

This top New York museum’s collection contains approximately 750,000 objects, including prints, photographs, decorative arts, costumes, sculptures, toys and paintings.

Whitney Donhauser has served as director and president of the Museum of the City of New York since 2016. “I think our ability to capture the excitement of New York and to be a thought leader for everything around New York, is all building towards that celebration,” she told blooloop.

Header image courtesy of MoMA

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Bea Mitchell

Bea is a journalist specialising in entertainment, attractions and tech with 10 years' experience. She has written and edited for publications including CNET, BuzzFeed, Digital Spy, Evening Standard and BBC. Bea graduated from King's College London and has an MA in journalism.

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